June 19th, 2020

How to live life

In response to some comments I made in a recent post about philosophy and philosophers, I thought it might be worth clarifying that I am not against either philosophy or philosophers; what I am against is turning them into a sole fixation of life.

I tend to fixate on specific ideas and analyze them to death, which is not always a bad thing to do if you want to foresee possible problems with something, but in everyday life, you can't spend your whole life obsessing over details and repercussions of theoretical ideas--or, more accurately, you can, but you shouldn't, because that is the wrong way to live a life.

If you want to learn about philosophy, there are two very important things which you must understand that good philosophy is not:

1. Philosophy is not about endless abstract theories which are detached from anything we could ever perceive or apply. Philosophy is not about what some ancient philosopher wrote down hundreds or thousands of years ago. Philosophy is about human beings and how they perceive themselves, their existence, and their universe. It is well and good to read and write about philosophy, but all of this brings nothing if people do not live philosophy in their everyday lives. It is well and good to write a book which functions as a blueprint for how people should live, but even better is to have an actual living society of people living well.

2. Philosophy is not something which ends somewhere. Just as numbers in mathematics go on forever, just as there is no "last number", there is no "last idea" in philosophy, because philosophy is not a directed thing which ends up at some terminal goal. Philosophy is a way of thinking. You cannot sensibly approach philosophy as a "job" or "task" to be finished to completion, because there is no completion point.

This being the case, it is important to treat philosophy not as something to obsess over, but something to incorporate into your everyday life. Do not pursue philosophy single-mindedly with the idea that if you do this, you will eventually hit upon some great discovery which was just waiting for you to discover it. If you do this, your life will just go endlessly in circles, getting nowhere. Philosophy is tricky that way: The more you pursue it as a directed process which begins at Point A and ends at Point B, the more the path between those points begins to twist upon itself and return to its starting point. You do not get somewhere by single-mindedly pursuing a "goal".

This goes back to something I wrote a few years ago (which was in turn taken from a book by Dilbert artist Scott Adams) which mentioned that life itself is not a directed thing with a final goal, but rather an ongoing process that does not end. If you devote your life to some goal, then you're setting yourself up for failure, because if you ever achieve that goal, then you will have no more reason to live. Instead, life must be seen as a process. You must eat and sleep regularly to keep yourself healthy, and this is not something which has any end: You never "finish" eating or sleeping, because even when you stop, you will have to start again soon. Living well means not trying to treat life like a job to finish, but rather incorporating meaningful processes into your everyday life.

Philosophy is a part of this. Philosophy itself doesn't have any obvious, practical application in everyday life. What philosophy does is help us to think more rationally and in a more informed way. Philosophy is useful for this, and it should be seen as a means to this end, not as an end in itself.

Ultimately, then, philosophy is useful not as a way of life, but rather as a way of telling us how to live life. When you think about it rationally, it seems that there is no point to anything, and that if you are going to be alive, then the only way to live is to irrationally choose to live despite the fact that life is worthless and meaningless, and will be forgotten soon after you die. But the meaning and value in life comes from our ability to be rational, balanced beings. If you live with the goal to be as aware as you can, as healthy as you can, as considerate and fair as you can, and as understanding and attentive as you can, then you understand that this is the point of us living our lives: Life is not here for us to achieve some goal, but rather for us to go through the process of being rational creatures capable of awareness, reflection, and self-control, and to live that way every day. This is how to live life when you are a human being. It's not difficult to do. But it does require some conscious thought and effort, because it does not come naturally to human beings, a species which is more naturally inclined to pursue the stupid, the thoughtless, and the mindlessly stimulating. To defeat this kind of living is one of the greatest victories that we as humans can achieve. But it's not a foe like a dragon or some other fantasy monster which you just kill once and then remains dead, because the enemy exists within us, within our hearts and minds, within our very souls: Human beings naturally carry a spirit of stupidity, selfishness, thoughtlessness, and destructiveness. To defeat this foe means to defeat it not just once, but every day of our lives. That is how to live life.